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Inspecting Iraq

November 22, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: Mohamed ElBaradei is a former Egyptian diplomat and international lawyer. He was appointed to run the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1997 and was reappointed to a second term last year.

Mr. Director General, welcome to the program.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Thank you very much for having me today.

RAY SUAREZ: You’ve just returned from Iraq on a journey with Hans Blix. Tell me about your consultations with the Iraqi government and your impression now of what kind of reception is waiting for your inspectors.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, I think, Ray, we got quite a positive reception in Iraq. I think the Iraqi authorities are aware that they don’t have much wiggle room, that the international community is united in its resolve that Iraq must prove that it has no weapons of mass destruction, so the meetings were very much constructive, businesslike, and the Iraqi authorities committed themselves “to do whatever is humanly possible” to cooperate with the inspectors.

Obviously, we’ll have to wait and see. We have to test this verbal commitment when we go back. We are starting our inspection in Iraq next week on the 27th of November, and I hope that this commitment, we will see it on the ground when our inspectors start the process of doing the different complements required for inspecting Iraqi sites and facilities.

RAY SUAREZ: In a recent interview with The Guardian in Great Britain, your partner, Hans Blix, said, “It is correct to say the IAEA was fooled by the Iraqis during an earlier inspections regime.” What’s changed about the forces at your disposal and the state of the art of inspections to make it a little less likely you’ll be fooled this time?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, quite a lot, Ray, has changed. I mean, I’m not sure that “we were fooled” is an accurate description. I think the international community was fooled, but it is not surprising that we were fooled, because we did not have adequate authority at that time to discover clandestine activities in a particular country, clandestine, undeclared nuclear activities.

We learned our lessons. The international community learned its lessons. And since the Iraqi painful experience in the early 90′s, we were authorized by our member states to have much more additional authorities in terms of access to information, in terms of access to sites, and we are trying now, we are in the process now to make sure that every country that is subject to our inspection regime provides us with such an authority through a new legal instrument, but in the case of Iraq, it is a quite different ballgame, because we are authorized by the Security Council with the most sweeping inspection rights, I should say. We have the right to do an inspection anywhere, any time, and interviewing people. We pretty much have all what we need in terms of authority.

Even in the last few years when there was some restriction on our access to presidential sites, so-called “sensitive” sites, government departments, et cetera, all these restrictions were knocked down by the new Security Council resolution.

We now have the right to have immediate, unfettered access to any site in Iraq, and we have the right to interview people, both inside and outside Iraq. We have the right to freeze activities during inspection to make sure that nothing would leak from an inspected site. And so we have, I think, a comfortable authority to do the job.

What we need in addition, Ray, is information. And I think Hans Blix and I emphasize that very much, that with all the authority we have, we need information as where to go and where to inspect. And that’s where intelligence information is very important. And we were assured by many governments that they will put at our disposal all the intelligence information they have, and that is reassuring. And I hope that would help us quite a bit.

And we also have a unified Security Council support. The fact that the resolution was adopted, the Security Council resolution was adopted unanimously, fifteen votes to none, sends a powerful message to Iraq. And I think the fact in the last few years that we were not very successful, we had, as Hans Blix said, a “cat and mouse” chase in Iraq, was the result of a divided Security Council. Now we have a united Security Council. And we hope that that Security Council will be behind us throughout the process. And we hope that that would result in full Iraqi cooperation.

We impressed on our counterparts in Baghdad that transparency and full cooperation is a key to our success. And if we succeed, this is the beginning of a process for them towards the elimination or suspension and eventual lifting of sanctions, so there is light for them at the end of the tunnel, but there is also serious consequences for them if we do not provide full cooperation.

RAY SUAREZ: This week, both in Prague and coming from various Security Council capitals, there’s been some disagreement about what constitutes material breach, that is, violation of the current U.N. resolutions. We’ve heard one opinion from the American Administration, another from Jacques Chirac. In your view and the view of your inspection team, as you get ready to do your work, is this a fairly cut and dried, black and white affair on what constitutes a violation of the current resolutions?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: It may be a major violation, it’s clear, Ray, I think you might have some different views whether it is a minor infraction or is it really a material breach, is it not, is it intentional, is it not. What we have said; what I have said and echoed also by Hans Blix, that our role is to report to the Security Council as accurately, as objectively as possible all types of cooperation we will have from the Iraqi side, all types of interaction we will have with the Iraqi side. It is then for the Security Council to evaluate the degree of Iraqi activities, the degree of Iraqi responses, and to say whether in fact this is a material breach or not and what is required in case there is a material breach.

We have also emphasized to the Security Council during our consultation with the Council that we have to use common sense. We used a number of examples, that if, for example, we are going to visit a site and there is a flat tire on a car, we are not rushing to the Council and saying, well, this is lack of cooperation. But if all the cars have no… are not working, that’s a pattern; that’s something which indicates an attitude. So we have to report everything but we will have also to use our common sense and good judgment.

RAY SUAREZ: The last time the international community, in effect, caught Iraq in violation it was because it was trying to refine its own nuclear fuels. A lot has changed in the world since then. If Iraq is skipping a step and trying to acquire already refined materials, is that harder for you to find?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: I think I would be much harder for us to find than if they are developing the indigenous fuel, Ray. I think we have been alerting the international community for a number of years that we need to make sure that Iraq will not get its hands on highly enriched uranium or plutonium from abroad. That means we need to make sure that there is adequate physical protection of all nuclear material particularly in the former Soviet Union and other places where we know that physical protection of nuclear material is not very, very high, and we also made it very clear that you need to have a good border control regime. That will be a serious challenge to our ability to detect Iraq, possible Iraq effort to develop weapons, if they were able to import material from abroad and this is something which we in the international community should be very much aware of. In addition to our inspection in Iraq, we need to also make sure that the borders are sealed and that no material or weapon-usable material are to be smuggled into Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: What if it’s not a question of getting out of the country but just moving it around inside the country? Do you have the means, do you have the technical means to find whether those materials have been around even if they have been moved or hidden?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: I think it’s difficult because if nuclear material is processed, if they are into the process of refining nuclear material, we will be able to detect that through environmental sampling, for example, through gamma radiation areas survey, but if the material is there or is stored, it will not send a signature, it will not leave fingerprints, and that will be difficult to detect through technical means. We will have to rely on human intelligence. And that’s why I’m saying I hope that this not the case. I hope that they do not have material already in the country because that is much more difficult to detect.

RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit about the makeup of the IAEA team. Your spokesman has said you’re tired of talking about it, but I have to ask anyway. Is it part of a confidence-building effort on the part of IAEA to include not only a high profile person such as yourself from the Arab world but members of the team who are fluid in Arabic, able to communicate with the Iraqi hosts in a way that makes this not an East-West confrontation, not an Arab-Christian confrontation, but the work of the international community.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Naturally, Ray, I mean, this has always been our practice in the past, and will be our practice in the future. What I’ve always said — that the primary consideration for us is confidence and independence and loyalty to organization. Nationality comes second, but once we satisfy the requirement of integrity and competence, then obviously we would like the diversity of nationality to make the process transparent, to create confidence that this is, as you said, is not an East-West or north-south operation, but this is truly an international operation. We had in the past many Arab inspectors, and we intend in the future to have many Arab inspectors.

In fact, I can tell you that next week during our first inspection in Iraq there is a woman inspector from Egypt who is going to be part of the team. That I think is something we – people have to be aware of, that it is not in any way meant to be a north-south, you know, confrontation. And, I keep saying on a number of occasions, Iraq is being inspected not because it’s an Arab or a Muslim country but because of a pattern of behavior in the 90′s, because of its invasion of Kuwait, because of the assessment by the international community, by the Security Council, that Iraq’s behavior requires that it should be disarmed, and it should not have any weapon of mass destruction. It is because it violated international law that it is being disarmed, and it is not because of its geographical profile.

RAY SUAREZ: Iraq has complained over the last 10 years that the weapons inspections regime has appeared to them to be open-ended and thus a violation of their sovereignty. What can Iraq do to shorten the timeline and also help you make a credible report back to the Security Council?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, Iraq can do a lot. Iraq can be transparent; it can be forthcoming, it can cooperate in a positive way. It is not true that the operation has been open-ended. In the case of the nuclear file, for example, Ray, we were able in 1997 to say that we have now believe at that time that we have neutralized Iraq’s nuclear program. The situation was different in the chemical and biological and missile, where UNSCOM, the predecessor of UNMOVIC, were reporting that there were still a number of open questions.

And this question remains open. Hans Blix mentioned to them that in that, in the area of chemical and biological, there are still a lot of open questions. You cannot say for sure that they have chemical or biological weapons, but you also cannot exclude that they have them, and what Iraq has to do is to provide evidence, documents, other evidence to make a convincing case that they no longer have weapons of mass destruction, particularly, as I said, chemical and biological. In the area of nuclear they have to come to convince us also that nothing has happened.

Since we left in 1998, that has changed our conclusion, which we reached at that time, that they don’t have nuclear weapons, or nuclear weapon capability. In addition to the inspection process, it helps a lot for Iraq to be forthcoming and to be all on the front line, helping us to reach credible conclusions.

We told the Iraqis that if you cooperate with us, both UNMOVIC and the IAEA, both of us were of the view that within one year from the beginning of the inspection we could report to the Security Council that Iraq has fulfilled the requirement for suspension of sanction – not the lifting of sanction but the suspension of sanction. And that is a very good incentive for Iraq. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but they have – they have to work with us, you know. Again, I’ve told them on a number of occasions there is a bitter pill you have to swallow, but this is for your own good, and you’d better – you’d better work with us, you know. We need you to get out of that corner you have put yourself, we need you to be – restore yourself as a full member of the international community, but the price for that is full transparency and full cooperation.

RAY SUAREZ: Director General ElBaradei, thanks for being us.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Thank you very much for having me.